Without a doubt, 2020 was a year that caused everyone an initial pause, followed in many cases by furious action.
Nobody felt that more than the parks and recreation industry, where closures in some areas pushed a flood of activity to others in an already lean environment. Through it all, the Fox Valley Park District in Illinois wanted to ensure that they stayed connected with their community and empathized with their patrons while meeting their needs. Vermont Systems RecTrac played an integral role in helping them stay true to their mission. We caught up with Jennifer Paprocki, Director of Finance, at Fox Valley Park District in Illinois, towards the end of last year to better understand how they’ve addressed issues for their patrons.
Q: What are the demographics of the Fox Valley Park District and what do you offer your community?
We serve a diverse population of 233,000 constituents in parts of four counties and are located approximately 40 miles west of Chicago. We operate three community centers, two outdoor aquatic parks, an 18-hole championship golf course, two museums, a golf course, and 168 parks across 65 square miles. We offer something for everyone, and our demographics are as driven in large part by the distinct communities within our geographic footprint.
Q: How has Vermont Systems and RecTrac helped with your billing for the fitness centers through the pandemic?
We shut down in March, essentially after we did our March 15th draft of all of our EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) bills. Just to give you kind of an idea of the scale, we bill anywhere between six and 7,000 patrons a month. We were about a quarter of a million dollars every month that we bill for our three fitness centers, and we also bill for programming.
Q: How did you start the reopening process from COVID-19 with your patrons in mind?
We reached out to Brian (VSI team member) in July to work on plan that let customers know that “we’re open, but we’re holding off on billing.” Basically, we left it up to our patrons that if they scanned in to a facility, we’d resume their EFT withdrawals, otherwise we’d keep people on hold. I provided Vermont Systems with an initial list of member scans to turn on billing in a batch process. Between August 15th and October 15th, we had to internally monitor any new scans and manually turn those back on. Then we actually had to turn off – we found this out after the fact – anyone who is auto-renewing during that time.
So we had to be mindful of both sides of the process. Fast forward to November, and we had to re-examine how we were going to proceed through the end of 2020 and into 2021. Essentially, we came to the same conclusion and put the work in to extend billing for unscanned members to March 15th. The relationship with Brian was essential to our success in this process. Vermont Systems was responsive and accommodating throughout, and that’s made it easier for us to manage these decisions.
Q: What has been the communities’ reaction to your efforts?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive. They appreciate that we’re not billing them for unused time, and that we understand that not everyone is ready to return to indoor activities – even with the strict mitigations and sanitation procedures we’ve put in place. Some of our members have even indicated that they’re fine with us billing them anyway…but we’ll just wait until they come back!
Q: How do you learn and keep up with the advancements in Vermont Systems?
Three of us went to the symposium in November of 2019. It was myself, our director of recreation and our IT manager. We absorbed a lot of information and got the latest on trends and tips to make RecTrac work for us. We also developed a better team mindset for watching updates around installment billing or other features that may help us operationally. It’s helped finance and recreation build a better rapport in pursuing our goals.
Q: What’s in the future for Fox Valley Park District?
My new role as a department head comes with the challenge of continually surveying the landscape to see how we can improve. I've already reached out to see how we can automate some of our processes that we're doing manually through paper, like refunds. Manual sign-offs by multiple users is time-consuming and inefficient, so I’m working to change that. The goal is to get everything to be digital and accessible. If the payment was originally made by credit card, and it's under a hundred dollars, and was for a program registration, we want the patron to be able to go through WebTrac to request a refund and automatically get it without any approvals from us. Our process to close out daily cash drawers could also be improved. We have 22 different point-of-sale stations across the district and everybody fills out a piece of paper for their shift. That’s not ideal, so we’ve started walking through the process of having to close out in RecTrac. If these functionalities and features are there, I want to be using them!
Nobody knows what lies ahead, but having foundational technology in place now makes adapting to changes quickly less disruptive to your organization, community, and patrons. See what lies ahead and stay up to date with the latest thinking on our blog.